Is Lethwei The King of Fighting Sports?
The Burmese sport of Lethwei (pronounced Leth-Way) has come to the fore recently, seeing a huge surge in interest from around the world. Mainly due to French Canadian World champion David Leduc’s recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience. With many now left wondering is Lethwei a better sport than Muay Thai?
Both Lethwei and Muay Thai are similar in so many ways. Namely the main striking techniques of elbows, knees, shins, feet and fists. But what separates the two are that Lethwei fighters use wraps only on their fists. And most lethally, headbutts as one of their key weapons.
With only a borderline separating both Thailand and Myanmar. Both of these south-east Asian Nations share very many historical and cultural similarities. Along with both countries being majority Buddist, they also share their deep affinity for their beloved striking arts. While in Thailand we see the martial art of 8 limbs, next door in Myanmar (formerly Burma) they had to go one better with the Art of 9 limbs.
lethwei vs muay thai
Lethwei, unlike its close cousin, does not allow the use of padded gloves, but rather traditional hand wraps usually made from a gauze type of material, which is then taped. Tightly bound, they offer minimal protection and are more so there to protect the fighter’s hands rather than their opponent.
Punches and strikes with the hands are favoured in Lethwei over kicks in Muay Thai and this is where the vast majority of the damage is done. In close with cutting elbows and the devastating Lethwei headbutt. Severe gashing and swelling is commonplace and an accepted part of the sport.
Muay Thai is very similar to Lethwei in so many ways. But for many Burmese, the addition of boxing gloves meant that Muay Thai has become the more easy route for fighters to take. And with a great deal of rivalry between both schools of fighters. Some do make the transition from one to the other, learning along the way whether the sport is truly for them.
Bare Knuckle Muay Thai
Lethwei appears to take all the good elements of Muay Thai, combined with bare-knuckle boxing and headbutts. And has been deemed by many as the most violent combat sport on the planet, yet only now is beginning to gain momentum on the world stage.
Lethwei fights are known for their brutality, which for some makes it quite unpalatable. However with growing interest and a steady stream of fighters from outside Myanmar showing a keen interest and knack for the sport. It may not be too long before we do see Lethwei finally go more mainstream.
With all manner of violent knockouts and highlights becoming more easily viewable on platforms such a YouTube, it’s certainly not a sport for everyone. But for those who do find the sport of nine limbs attractive, there’s plenty on the horizon to get them excited, as they now do not have to go all the way to Myanmar itself to watch Lethwei live.
With rule changes being brought to the sport by ex Olympic boxer Kyar Ba Nyein. Lethwei has sought to make itself more appealing to a global audience, opening the world up to what many see as the apex of combat sports.
With some of the more traditional elements having been dropped, today Lethwei follows a much more International set of rules. Gone are the open sandpits where the fighters would complete, replaced by the more widely used boxing ring.
In the past, fights would not end until one of the fighters were either knocked out or unable to continue with the introduction of the new rules in 2016 unless a fighter is stopped, a fight can now end in a draw. The duration of the rounds also saw an alignment with Muay Thai, with the standard five by three-minute rounds now bringing the sports even closer together.
One of the final major differences between the two sports not seen in Muay Thai is the injury timeout. This gives the trainers an opportunity to revive their fighters who otherwise may not have been able to continue. Adding to that a very rudimentary scoring system and Lethwei fights are often more aggressive in their pacing.
The WLC World Lethwei Championships
Established in just 2015, the Lethwei world championships has opened the door for foreign fighters to test themselves against the best in the world. With yet another adjustment in the ruleset, the championships made a conscious decision to make the sport more broadcast friendly. And bring it in line with both Muay Thai and MMA in terms of rounds and breaks.
- Fights can be 3, 4 or 5 rounds at 3 minutes per round
- There is a 2-minute break between each round
- Championship fights are 5 rounds with 3 minutes per round.
With world champion belts on the line in weight divisions ranging from light flyweight up to cruiserweight. The sport currently does not contain a heavyweight division. This may be down to the apparent lack of larger domestic fighters which have not allowed the sport to expand into the heavier weight classes.
The current man of the hour is the Canadian born Lethwei world champion, Dave Leduc, who fights in both the open and cruiserweight categories. Following his exploits inside the ring, Leduc has become a massive star in Myanmar. And as a result is constantly mobbed by fans whenever he is seen out and about on the streets.
Having competed in MMA and then Muay Thai, Leduc commented that it wasn’t until he fought in Lethwei that he truly felt comfortable. And so close is his connection to the country and to the sport, Leduc espousing that he believes he lived in Myanmar at some point in a former life.
WLC world lethwei championship live
If you now feel a burning desire to watch some fights live as they happen. Then you should check out the world Lethwei championship live stream. Which now broadcasts across some of the worlds biggest combat channels including Canal+, UFC Fight Pass, Fox Sports, The Fight Network and FG.
It looks as though the self-proclaimed largest bar knuckle, yet fledgeling promotion, is hoping to take the world by storm. As it bolsters it’s stable of fighters not just from local talent, while also pooling some bigger names which are known to a wider audience. There’s an air of confidence about its product as it looks to set the combat sports world alight.
There can be little doubting the attractiveness of Lethwei to those fight fans who live for fast-paced aggressive fights with devastating knockouts. Not for the faint-hearted the fights often end with some vicious cuts and crushing stoppages.
But in terms of appeal to a wider, more mainstream combat sports casual. It may take a little time for the seed to take root in the minds of your average Saturday night boxing or MMA fan. For those who already follow Muay Thai will no doubt be more easily swayed and may even begin to lean more toward Lethwei.
But in a world where traditional bare knuckle boxing is being raised from the ashes in the western world. Why shouldn’t there also be a spot for Lethwei? Bringing together elements from the best fighting sports on the planet, it may very well be the next big thing!
Images courtesy of imdb.com & asiaone.com
Part-time surfer, full-time dog fanatic, Martial Arts practitioner. I’m trying to save the world, one fight at a time. Catch me blogging at FightNomads.com.